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Advocates Say Not All NY Voting Reforms Benefit Voters

Voting booths
Pat Bradley

Over the weekend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a package of voting reforms including ones that ease the rules and restrictions on mail-in absentee balloting. But a leading voter access advocate says the state still has more to do before mail-in balloting is universally accessible. 

The bills that Cuomo, a Democrat, approved include eliminating the requirement that voters have to submit signed applications for absentee ballots. They will now be able to request the ballots by an unsigned letter, or by going online to get one mailed to them. Ballots can be postmarked up until Election Day. Previously, they had to be stamped seven days before Election Day in order to count.  

The legislation also requires boards of elections to better inform voters when changes are made to polling places.  

Jennifer Wilson, with the League of Women Voters, says some of the changes are positive steps in the ongoing process of easing New York’s often confusing voting procedures. But she says others are not so beneficial.   

“We don’t love all of them, truthfully,” Wilson said.

She says one of the changes takes New York backward. It will require voters to request an absentee ballot 15 or more days before election, instead of the prior rule of seven days. Lawmakers say they are following the advice of the federal Postal Service. It says more time is needed due to chronic delays in delivering mail because of staff reductions and other cost cutting measures. Wilson says New York now has one of the earliest deadlines in the nation for requesting ballots. 

“Not all of these policies are pro-voter policies,” said Wilson, who said if the deadline had to be lengthened, it should have been 11 days before elections, not 15.  

Some bigger changes to voting rules could take place after this November’s elections. A measure on the ballot this fall would amend the state’s constitution to allow for widespread mail-in voting. It would pave the way for “no excuse” absentee voting, by ending the requirement that voters can only get absentee ballots if they are ill or out of the state on Election Day. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers could request a ballot if they cited the pandemic as a reason, but those exceptions have now ended. 

A second ballot referendum would pave the way for same-day voter registration, by rescinding the constitutional requirement that voters must register to vote 10 days or longer before an election.  

Even if New York’s voters approve the measures, the governor and legislature would still have to create new laws in 2022 to specifically allow same-day voter registration and universal mail-in voting by the fall.

Other voting law changes approved by Cuomo include a rule that will allow candidates who lose in party primary elections to remove their name from minor party ballot lines if they wish to do so. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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